Disclaimer: See Prologue.

Rating: PG-13

Rating: A, E, R, ALT

Tears and Silence 

Room 116 (Study Hall)/September 8, 1996


Jessie walked into her study hall and spotted the boy who had gotten sent to the principal's office with her. Now she owed him more of an apology than ever.

"Hi, I'm Jessie," she said. "I just wanted to apologize for running into you during the food fight and getting you in trouble. I feel really stupid."

He broke into a smile and she thought again how blue his eyes were. Watch it, Bannon, she thought. Pretty soon you'll be drooling.

"Apology accepted," he replied. "I'm Jeremy Whittacker, but call me Jer. Is it always this crazy here?"

Jessie giggled. "Only when Jonny's up to something. He causes a lot of trouble. He's right, his dad will be pissed."

"You hang out with him a lot?"

"Well, it's kinda complicated…" She explained her home situation to him. When she finished, he laughed.

"That is complicated. I live with my mom most of the time, but I moved here on my own. I just got an apartment here."

"You have your own apartment?" Jessie asked, surprised. "Why?"

"Well, recently my dad died, and… Mom's been kinda weird lately. I'm gonna be eighteen soon, so she loaned me money to move back to the U.S. and finish high school."

"Oh," Jessie replied, subdued. "I'm sorry about your dad."

I bet, thought Jer. "Thanks," he said. "He'd been sick forever, and he had other- problems. I guess I should've seen it coming, but-" He broke off and shook his head. "I don't really want to talk about it."

The conversation moved on to other topics. Jessie enjoyed talking to him; his speech was laced with dryly humorous remarks that caught her off guard and made her laugh out loud when she least expected it. His eyes would laugh, and his mouth would pull up into a half-smile. Unlike Jonny's lopsided grin, which was usually accompanied by a blush, Jer's half-smile was sardonic, sarcastic, knowing-- as though the two of them were co-conspirators.

It was almost as though he was testing her, feeling out the waters of her personality before submerging himself. But every so often she startled him into a full smile, and it splashed across his face like an ocean wave. She found he wasn't afraid to meet her eyes, and this amused her. Completely unselfconscious, as though he took it for granted that she would like and admire him. For some reason, this intrigued her rather than annoying her, as such attitudes usually did.

The loudspeaker crackled to life as Mr. Davis prepared to make last bell announcements.

"…And knowing that you have all enjoyed your first day back to school, I trust that you will all conduct yourselves with dignity as you leave the building. I must remind you that the speed limit inside the parking lot is fifteen miles per hour, not fifty, as some of you seemed to think this morning…"

The bell went off. Jessie stood and grabbed her backpack. She turned to Jer. "Well, time to go clean the cafeteria." He smiled his almost-smile and followed her out.  

RHS /September 8, 1996


As Jessie walked with Jer towards the cafeteria the halls grew emptier and emptier. They turned into the cafeteria to see Jonny, Rick, and Lyddie already cleaning up the mess.

"Hey, guys," Jessie called, setting her backpack down and grabbing in wet rag out of the nearest bucket. "How's it goin'?"

Jonny grinned. "You know how much we love to clean!"

"You're kidding, right?" Jer asked, making a face as he wiped up a truly nasty looking glob of something that looked like it involved chocolate pudding, macaroni and cheese, and tapioca.

"We're just about used to it by now," Lyddie explained. "This is how we spent our afternoons freshman year. Mrs. DePaula usually gives the detention kids cleanup duty. I know I'm an expert at this by now."

"You, maybe," said Rick, looking up from where he was mopping. "Somehow I always got bathroom duty. Ugh."

They worked in silence for the next half hour. Finally, they were finished.

"Wow!" Rick mused. "This place looks almost good enough to eat in!"

Lyddie rat-tailed him with her cleaning rag as Jonny finished dumping the dirty water from his bucket.

"How are you guys getting home?" Rick asked Jessie. Rick and Lyddie lived on the same street, a few houses apart. They could walk home, but it would take about half an hour.

Jessie looked at her watch. "I guess I'll call Hadji," she told him. "He should be almost done programming that last module for Dr. Quest."

"Why don't we just call Pop?" Jonny asked. "He should be able to get us if Hadji's doing the last module."

"Uh, I have a car," Jer said. "It would be a little cramped," he added, looking at the four of them and their backpacks, "but I could take you all home."

"Oh, that's OK," Jessie replied. "It's gotta be a lot out of your way, and-"

"No, really," Jer interrupted. "It's not a problem. It'll help me get to know my way around."

"Are you sure?" Jonny asked. "I mean, we can get another ride."

"It would be my pleasure," Jer answered, his eyes never leaving Jessie's face. Jessie felt herself begin to blush.

"OK!" Jonny responded, not noticing their distraction. He grabbed his backpack and pounded Rick on the back. "Let's go!"

RHS Parking Lot/ September 8, 1996


Jer led them to one of the few cars still in the parking lot, a black two-door Dodge Stealth.

"Whoa!" Lyddie exclaimed. "Nice car!"

"Thanks," Jer said as he opened the trunk.

"Looks almost new," Rick remarked as he tossed in his backpack.

"It is. It was a gift."

Jonny whistled. "Wish I got nice presents like that."

Jessie rolled her eyes. "You poor thing. Forced to drive around in the QUV."

"The what?" Jer asked, flipping up the driver's seat so that Lyddie and Rick could get into the back seat.

"The Quest Utility Vehicle. One of Pop's souped-up minivans," Jonny grumbled, climbing in after his friends. He put on his seatbelt and pulled the seat back into place.

Jessie opened the passenger door and sat down. Jer climbed in last. "Everybody OK back there?"

"Oof. I think Lyddie's elbow is cutting off my air supply," said Rick.

Lyddie elbowed him in the gut. "Would you move your fat self so I can put on my seatbelt?"

Jonny chuckled. "We're fine, by our standards."

"I warned you it would be crowded," Jer said ruefully.

Jessie pulled her seat up as far as it would go to give Rick and Lyddie more leg room. Glancing in the rearview mirror, Jessie was struck by how young Lyddie looked compared to Jonny and Rick. She was only about five feet tall and very petite. Jonny and Rick towered over her comically. This was ironic, considering the fact that Jessie knew very well that Lyddie was usually the ringleader of the three. Jessie wouldn't have been at all surprised to know that although Jonny had suggested pulling a prank on the upperclassmen, the waterguns had been entirely Lyddie's stroke of genuis. Rick, of course, had managed to plan the entire affair and secure the weaponry.

The Stealth pulled out of the parking lot smoothly, engine humming. "All right, who gets dropped off first?" Jer asked. Rick and Lyddie took turns arguing over which was the best way to get to their street, with Jonny shouting encouragement to one or the other. Jer looked at Jessie and raised an eyebrow. "Are they always like this?"

"Hey!" they chorused from the tiny backseat. 

E-mail to Csurd@hotmail.com/September 8,1996


To: Csurd@hotmail.com

From: Jsurd@hotmail.com

Subject: Day One

Stroke of luck. Ran into JB at lunch- literally. Offered to take her home, with JQ and two of his friends, Rick Jones and Lyddie Driver. Fairly sure I can bypass Quest security next time I need to get in, but shouldn't have to- JB seems quite taken with me. Or maybe I flatter myself. No sign of RB at Quest house; maybe better luck next time. Am still waiting for weapon, delivery is slow. Your little brother, Jer.

"It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -A. Einstein

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